Declaring something a right, doesn’t make it so. And declaring something a right won’t solve that particular problem either. In order for a right to operate correctly (a true right), it must be coupled with freedom.
2.8 million people die from bad water and sanitation every year. And three in four of those victims are children. What can we do about this? Some say that if we give people the right to clean water, the problem will solve itself.
But, we must remember that a right does not correct a wrong. Fifteen countries have altered their constitution to include a right to clean water. David Zetland with FORBES magazine, compares a few of these countries (12 countries with the right, and 12 without): Access to clean water went from 74% to 81% for countries who declare it a right in 2006. In countries that did not, access rose from 77% to 82%. Zetland concludes, “rights do not necessarily lead to results.”
When looking at countries that have granted this “right”, we also see that: “These are developing countries with weak institutions, opaque politics and deep corruption. It’s naive to hope that a ‘right’ will lead to flowing taps in a place where free speech gets you killed, police solicit bribes from victims and politicians give state assets to cronies.”
Then what does lead to results? Give the poor (and of course, everyone) Property rights. By allowing water to be sold, water will then be distributed. As Zetland puts it, “I propose that rights be distributed to their owners and taken from the politicians and bureaucrats who currently (mis)manage it.” And the benefits from this would not only be more water, but cleaner water too. Because the people who sell the water are most likely drinking it too. So they would of course care about it’s cleanliness.
When looking at the situation in Haiti after a massive earthquake that killed around 250,000 people. Was it just a natural disaster? Could the effects have been cushioned? The effect could have been cushioned significantly, and saved many lives.
The earthquake in Haiti was 7.0 in magnitude. But a more recent earthquake in Chile was an 8.8 and it’s death toll is 725, significantly less than the weaker earthquake in Haiti.
What is the cause of this strange phenomenon? Some say this is because the earthquake in Chile was in a less populated area, whereas Haiti’s was close to the capital. But, as IBD Editorials points out, “that misses the fact that Chile’s quake was 50 times stronger. More importantly, it ignores the big elephant in the room: Unlike poverty-stricken Haiti, Chile has embraced capitalism.”
Iain Murray with National Review (February 8, 2010 issue) says that a nation without corruption, that has wealth and property rights has much greater resiliency.
An earthquake in San Francisco the year 1906 killed 3,000 people, a similar one in 1989, had a death toll of just 63. Murray explains, “The last hundred years saw a significant investment by humanity worldwide in the institutions of resiliency. That is why, contra the claims of alarmist environmentalists, the death toll from natural disasters fell significantly over that century. One can see this pattern in the United States”.
And here’s where poverty-stricken Haiti has faltered, “poor countries almost universally lack well-defined, readily enforceable property rights.” In addition, in 2006 Haiti was rated the most corrupt nation in the world by Transparency International.
Wealth demands more safety (and can afford it), freedom ensures wealth (property rights, productivity, innovation), and no corruption ensures freedom.
Freedom is the answer. Free people can solve problems, government has been shown to worsen them. Free people can create wealth, government just puts us into debt. Freedom is the release from the current statist quo.
Ronald Reagan once said, “Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in'”.